The War Against Authority: From the Crisis of Legitimacy to a New Social Order

The War Against Authority: From the Crisis of Legitimacy to a New Social Order


Link to Full Text

Download Full Text

Publication Date



The Cold War is over and a New World Order is supposed to have begun. Yet the world has perversely avoided the "broad, sunlit uplands of peace" hoped for by Winston Churchill. Ethnic, religious, and civil strife continues to erupt around the world, played out in the mass media with unprecedented immediacy and horror. As fears of global apocalypse fade, the struggle between the forces upholding "authority" and those clamoring for "autonomy" breaks out anew on the national and sub-national stages. Not only the nation and the state, but also the church, the family, the school and the workplace, are reeling under the lash of dissent, opposition, and rebellion--often appearing on the verge of collapse.

In The War Against Authority, his most provocative work to date, eminent political, legal, and historical scholar Nicholas N. Kittrie explores the causes of escalating worldwide racial, cultural, political and social discontent. He goes beyond facile and traditional explanations such as population explosion, environmental abuse, ancient rivalries or the clash of civilizations. Instead, Kittrie points to a long predicted "crisis of legitimacy," a force that erodes the underpinnings of society and public confidence in its institutions.

With dramatic historical sweep and unblinking contemporary focus, Kittrie highlights the quest by those out of power to share in society's benefits, and by rulers to gain and maintain the acquiescence of their underlings. The cast of players in Kittrie'sbook is as diverse as history itself: Socrates and Brutus, Robert E. Lee and John Brown, Martin Luther King and Susan B. Anthony, Vladimir Lenin and Mao-Tsetung, Lee Harvey Oswald and Sirhan Sirhan. Their means and causes are just as varied: abolition and slavery, public order and individual conscience, abortion and the right to life, the bomb and the leaflet, freedom fighting and terrorism, communal conciliation and genocide, fundamentalism and heresy, conformity and civil disobedience, tribalism and multiculturalism.

Kittrie shows how the recent scramble between the Republican "Contract with America" and the Democratic "New Covenant" is simply an attempt to reclaim political legitimacy--different and contrasting efforts to recapture the essence of the "American Dream." The ongoing process to rewrite, in a form acceptable to new generations, this country's "social contract" (modifying and implementing a Constitution signed in Philadelphia over two hundred years ago) is mirrored across the globe. Constitution writing and similar efforts at institution and consensus building are vigorously under way throughout the world, clearly pointing to a need to prop up the legitimacy of authority in this pluralistic post-totalitarian era.

The War Against Authority is not another fin de siecle documentation of chaos and the world's woes. It offers workable solutions, useful methods for governments and individuals to redefine their identities and restore the legitimacy of authority. Kittrie proposes creative, responsive and pluralistic systems of power-sharing and justice. He calls for a new national and worldorder, committed to the richness of human diversity, the power of the person over government, and the ultimate accountability of all power. As Kittrie reiterates: "Perhaps history is nothing more than the struggle between different concepts of authority."




Last Page



Johns Hopkins University Press




Kahle/Austin Foundation

The War Against Authority: From the Crisis of Legitimacy to a New Social Order